It enhances my practice as a therapist. Even though I have written about a range of subjects, there are connecting threads that run through. Therapy presupposes an understanding of the person and it has been my aim to understand what makes a person who they are and my writing has helped me do that.
I have authored over 40 publications. My first book, published in 1985 and reissued 15 later was The Legacy of the Holocaust :Psychohistorical Themes in the Lives of Children of Survivors. The aim of the book was to look at how the children of people who had endured the Holocaust were effected by their historical and generational identity. In that and other work I explored the role of trauma over generations in shaping people’s view of themselves, their emotional life and connections, their personal identity and their strategies, explicit or more often implicit, for living life in the present. The role of History with a capital and is interaction with personal history was my subject. I was among the first , if not the first to use the term Historical Trauma. At first, I was trying to develop a framework for the generational transmission of trauma but overtime became dissatisfied with thinking about trauma as transmitted inter-generationally and began thinking of trauma as “embedded” in a matrix of Historical, personal, family and cultural forces. The Holocaust was a massive trauma unprecedented in its extremity but all human beings have been shaped by individual or collective traumas and losses. Cultural context is key to not only understanding trauma but also to understanding therapy. It also brings out one of the most important concerns that run though all my writing, namely it is not only the trauma that matters but the response to it. This includes not only the response of the social world around the person but also the response of the therapist who has to contend with an inner defensiveness that interferes with a therapeutic response.
It is a natural bridge from thinking about trauma to thinking about therapy. I am inspired by many great teachers first among whom is Sandor Ferenczi. It is said that if Freud was the father of Psychoanalysis, Ferenczi was its mother. It was Ferenczi who brought caring, spontaneity, and flexibility to the forefront. Ferenczi was a great innovator in therapeutic methods and it is not so much the particular techniques he introduced but the idea of creative innovation. One of my earlier papers titled “Is Talk Cheap, is Silence Golden” contrasted formalized therapeutic procedures with the need to design therapy arounds the individual .
Just as I encourage growth in others, my own ideas have developed and evolved. At the same time , there are methods that endure because they should. We learn from ideas that are foundational and stand the test of time. I edited the 75thAnniversay Issue of the American Journal of Psychoanalysis , which was devoted to the question “What is effective in psychoanalytical psychotherapy? A Historical Reprise.” It looked at old that inform the new.
The history of psychotherapy teaches us a great deal. As program Chair of Psychologist -Psychoanalyst Clinicians, I put together panels for three successive years addressing shifting psychotherapeutic aptitudes towards psychoanalysis that led to a book titled, The Death of Psychoanalysis: Murder, Suicide or Rumor Greatly Exaggerated. Once psychoanalysis dominated psychiatry but cultural shifts brought forth new paradigms. The book is a collection of essays from leaders in the field about ideas about therapy that had been outgrown and led to better ideas, ideas that needed to be preserved and how therapy could evolve.
More recently, I have been writing about History including its darker aspects . When a person walks in the door, history and culture constitute the quiet background of the stories they tell themselves, about their lives and problems. My early interest in Historical trauma has led to a series of recent papers about destructiveness which includes exploration of beliefs, deception and the consequences of being deceived. I find that current events frequently enter the consulting room and deception is an important mental health issue that contributes to feelings of being destabilized in the present. It is not my role to advocate for any belief system but examining the influence of beliefs on a persons’ contentment, security, anxiety and behavior has to be a dimension of the process.